Eli Whitney’s cotton gin revolutionized agricultural production in the South. Until the late 18th century, green seed cotton grew throughout inland Georgia, but separating its sticky seeds from the cotton fiber was time-consuming and costly. Whitney developed the cotton gin, a technology that, as he claimed, allowed one man to do the work of a thousand men. In 1794, he patented the invention and hoped to make his fortune. “The means furnished by this discovery of cleaning that species of cotton, were at once so cheap and expeditious, and the prospect of advantage so alluring, that it suddenly became the general crop of the country,” Whitney wrote.
However, while use of the cotton gin and similar technologies boomed, Whitney’s patent was largely ignored. “The infringment [sic] of his rights became almost as extensive as the cultivation of cotton,” Whitney continued. Patent law was soon altered to prevent such infringement in 1800. In 1808 and 1812, Whitney petitioned Congress to renew his cotton gin patent. His 1812 petition was referred to Representatives William Lowndes, Timothy Pitkin, Bolling Hall, Hugh Nelson, and Edwin Gray, but was not approved.